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1. Publisher's notes and any footnotes have been moved from the bottom of the page to directly after the location in the text it refers to, and placed in [ ] brackets.
2. Non-English spellings of place names and proper nouns were not checked in detail. In some words, there was the substitution of non-umlaut letters with their English equivalent (i.e., u for ü, a for ä). Sometimes, a ü was rendered as ii by the FineReader 5.0 OCR program.
3. I moved many of the numbered sketches to their first mention in the body of the book.
Field Marshal ERWIN ROMMEL
Copyright ® 1979 Athena Press, Inc.
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. NO PART OF THIS BOOK MAY BE REPRODUCED IN ANY FORM WITHOUT PERMISSION IN WRITING FROM THE PUBLISHER, EXCEPT BY A
REVIEWER WHO MAY QUOTE BRIEF PASSAGES IN A REVIEW. FIRST EDITION
Library of Congress Catalog Number 79-52022 ISBN 0-9602736-0-3
Published by ATHENA PRESS, INC. P.O. Box 776 Vienna, Virginia 22180 Printed In The United States Of America
Table Of Contents
WAR OF MOVEMENT — BELGIUM AND NORTHERN
On The Frontier
Reconnaissance Around Longwy And Preparations for The First Battle
Action At Bleid
On The Meuse - Action At Mont And The Doulcon Woods
Action At Gesnes
Pursuit Through The Argonne; Action At Pretz
Attack Of Defuy Woods
Fighting In Defuy Woods
Night Attack, September 9-10, 1914
Retirement Through The Argonne
Operations Near Montblainville; Storming Bouzon Woods
COMBAT IN THE ARGONNE, 1915 The Company Sector In The Charlotte Valley
Attack Of January 29, 1915
Before Central And Bagatelle
Attack On Central
Attack Of September 8, 1915
POSITIONAL WARFARE IN THE HIGH VOSGES — 1916. WAR OF MOVEMENT IN
RUMANIA — 1916-1917
The New Unit
Raid On "Pinetree Knob"
In The Skurduk Pass
The Storming Of Lesului
Action At Kurpenul - Valarii
Hill 1001, Magura Odobesti
COMBAT IN THE SOUTHEAST CARPATHIANS —
Approach March To The Carpathian Front
Attack Against The Ridge Road Bend, August 9, 1917
Attack Of August 10, 1917
The Storming Of Mount Cosna, August 11, 1917
Combat On August 12, 1917
On The Defense, August 13-18, 1917
The Second Storming Of Mount Cosna, August 19, 1917
Again On The Defensive
THE TOLMEIN OFFENSIVE, 1917 Deployment And Dispositions For The 12th Battle Of The Isonzo
Attack Of The First Day: Hevnik And Hill 1114
Assault On The Second Day, October 25, 1917 - Surprise Breakthrough On The Kolvorat Position
Attack Against Kuk, Blocking The Luico - Savogna Valley And Opening The Luico Pass
The Storming Of Mount Cragonza
The Capture Of Hill 1192, Mrzli Peak And The Attack On Mount Matajur
ATTACKS is a classic in military literature. First published in Germany in 1937 under the title Infanterie Greift An, it became a great success before World War II and played a major role in
launching Rommel on the road to fame. The book went through at least eighteen printings by 1944, when the legendary soldier was forced to commit suicide because of his implication in the plot against Hitler.
The US Army translated the book in 1943 and General George Patton became familiar with it. Patton was reportedly "electrified" by the book, and read it again and again until he knew it by heart. Other American officers also took a keen interest in the book, and an abridged edition was published in 1944 by the "Infantry Journal" under the title Infantry Attacks.
Today, 35 years after its initial publication in the United States, the book is mentioned frequently as a magnificent account of imaginative and successful combat leadership. Copies of the wartime English edition are among the most valued works in private collections. All copies in the Library of Congress and in the Army Library in the Pentagon have, however, mysteriously disappeared. This edition of ATTACKS is the first complete and unabridged edition of the book published in the United States. Earlier editions omitted passages potentially embarrassing to our allies as well as a large number of drawings and sketch maps. The Army translation understandably suffered also from a hurried wartime effort.
In preparing this edition J. R. Driscoll retranslated the original German work and revised hundreds of PURSUIT OVER THE
TAGLIAMENTO AND PIAVE RIVERS
Masseris-Campeglio-Torre Tagliamento River-Klautana Pass
Pursuit To Cimolais
Attack On The Italian Position West Of Cimolais
Pursuit Through Erto And The Vajont Ravine
The Fight At Longarone
passages in the Army translation. Bob Heittman, working with the German wartime English editions, painstakingly revised the sketches and sketch maps. Where possible they were compared to large scale maps of the areas involved to resolve questions of detail and provide approximate scales. In a few instances additional details have been added. The drawings of scenes are taken from the original and may have been done by Rommel himself.
As the autobiographical record of a Great Captain, ATTACKS is a book of historical interest and importance. In tracing Rommel's development from a green lieutenant to a confident, seasoned and singularly successful commander, it provides keen insight into his mind and character.
It is, as well, an important treatise on combat leadership and psychology, and contains many valuable lessons for those who would raise and train armies. Prime among these lessons is the reminder that men are the key element in combat; that it is the will, spirit and skill of men, led by competent and courageous officers that win battles; that high morale is developed by the accomplishment of difficult tasks.
Sixty-one years after the fact, and forty-two years after writing this book, Erwin Rommel's message is as clear and important today as it was then.
Europe at the beginning of 1914 was deceptively quiet. Under a thin veneer of peace, stresses and strains had developed that would soon rip the existing structure of nations apart.
On the continent, Germany had attained dominance as a result of its success in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 and its rapid industrialization. By 1914 she had established an overseas empire and a navy to protect it. She had become a world power on a collision course with other European powers. France had recovered rapidly after 1870 but the humiliation of her defeat and loss of Alsace and Lorraine were not forgotten. By 1914 France was second in power only to Germany on the continent and was looking for revenge.
The British had become increasingly fearful of the threat Germany's navy posed to their empire. In the east there was constant friction between Russia and the Austro-Hungarian Empire which was in the final stages of a long decline in power. National aspirations in the Balkans and especially in Serbia, which laid claim to portions of Austria, were a particular point of irritation. Russia, anxious to extend its influence to the Balkans and thence to the Dardanelles and the Mediterranean Sea, sided with Serbia against Austria.
Russia also had an interest in the dismemberment of the Turkish Empire and had supported the successful efforts of several Balkan states to force Turkey out of most of her European provinces in 1913. Turkey, for her part nurtured a deep hatred for Russia.
The tensions that developed needed only triggering to plunge Europe into war. The murder of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife by a Serbian assassin on June 28, 1914 was the trigger.
A complex series of ultimatums, mobilizations and war declarations followed. Austria declared war on Serbia. Germany demanded Russia halt its mobilization and when the demand was ignored declared war on Russia and France, which was committed to honoring its alliance with Russia. The German invasion of Belgium (at which point this book begins) brought England into the war. By August 4th Germany and Austria (The Central Powers) were at war with the Allies—Belgium, Britain, France, Russia and Serbia. Italy remained neutral, claiming that it was obliged to assist the other members of the Triple Alliance only if they were attacked.
Later Turkey and Bulgaria sided with the Central Powers; Italy, Rumania, the United States and others joined with the Allies.
Rommel's experience in the war was unusual in its scope. He served in Belgium, France, Rumania, Austria and Italy and fought the French, Russians, Rumanians and Italians. His story begins on July 31, 1914, the eve of war.
Foreword to the 1937 Edition
This book describes numerous World War I battles which I experienced as an infantry officer. Remarks are appended to many descriptions in order to extract worthwhile lessons from the particular operation.
The notes, made directly after combat, will show German youth capable of bearing arms, the unbounded spirit of self-sacrifice and courage with which the German soldier, especially the infantryman, fought for Germany during the four-and-a-half-year war. The following examples are proof of the tremendous combat powers of the German infantry, even when faced with superior odds in men and equipment; and these sketches are again proof of the superiority of the junior German commander to his enemy counterpart.
Finally, this book should make a contribution towards perpetuating those experiences of the bitter war years; experiences often gained at the cost of great deprivations and bitter sacrifice.
War of Movement Belgium And Northern
Ulm, July 31, 1914—The danger of war hung ominously over the German nation. Everywhere, serious, troubled faces! Unbelievable rumors which spread with the greatest of rapidity filled the air. Since dawn all public bulletin boards had been surrounded. One extra edition of the papers followed the other.
At an early hour the 4th Battery of the 49th Field Artillery Regiment hurried through the old imperial city. Die Wacht am Rhein resounded in the narrow streets.
I rode as an infantry lieutenant and platoon commander in the smart Fuchs Battery to which I had been assigned since March. We trotted along in the bright morning sunshine, did our normal exercises, and then returned to our quarters accompanied by an enthusiastic crowd whose numbers ran into thousands.
During the afternoon, while horses were being purchased in the barrack yard, I obtained relief from my assignment. Since the situation appeared most serious, I longed for my own regiment, the King Wilhelm I, to be back with the men whose last two years of training I had supervised in the 7th Company, 124th Infantry (6th Württemberg).
Along with Private Hanle, I hurriedly packed my belongings; and late in the evening we reached Weingarten, our garrison city.
On August 1, 1914, there was much activity in the regimental barracks, the big, old cloister building in Weingarten. Field equipment was being tried on! I reported back to headquarters and greeted the men of the 7th Company whom I was to accompany into the field. All the young faces radiated joy, animation, and anticipation. Is there anything finer than marching against an enemy at the head of such soldiers?
At 1800, regimental inspection. Colonel Haas followed his thorough inspection of the field-gray clad regiment with a vigorous talk. Just as we fell out, the mobilization order came. Now the decision had been made. The shout of German youths eager for battle rang through the ancient, gray cloister buildings.
The 2d of August, a portentous Sabbath! Regimental divine services were held in the bright sunlight, and in the evening the proud 6th Württemberg Regiment marched out to resounding band music and entrained for Ravensburg. An unending stream of troop trains rolled westward toward the threatened frontier. The regiment left at dusk to the accompaniment of cheers. To my great disappointment I was obliged to remain behind for a few days in order to bring up our reserves. I feared that I was going to miss the first fight.
The trip to the front on August 5, through the beautiful valleys and dells of our native land and amid the cheers of our people, was indescribably beautiful. The troops sang and at every stop were
We crossed the Rhine during the night. Searchlights crisscrossed the sky on the lookout for enemy planes or dirigibles. Our songs had died down. The soldiers slept in all positions. I rode in the locomotive, looking now into the firebox then out into the rustling, whispering, sultry summer's night wondering what the next few days would bring.
In the evening of August 6 we arrived at Konigsmachern near Diedenhofen and were glad to be out of the cramped quarters of the troop train. We marched through Diedenhofen to Ruxweiler.
Diedenhofen was not a pretty sight with its dirty streets, houses, and taciturn people. It seemed so different from my home in Swabia.
We continued the march, and at nightfall a torrential downpour set in. Soon there was not a dry stitch of clothing on our bodies, and the water-soaked packs began to weigh heavily. A fine beginning! Occasional shots were heard far in the distance. About midnight our platoon arrived in Ruxweiler without suffering any losses during the six-hour march. The company commander, First Lieutenant Bammert, awaited us. Cramped quarters on straw was our lot.
On The Frontier
During the next few days, hard drilling welded our war-strength company together. Besides platoon and company exercises, we were subjected to a wide variety of combat exercises which all placed great emphasis on the use of the spade. In addition, I spent several uneventful rainy days on guard with my platoon in the vicinity of Bollingen. Here some of my men and I suffered stomach disturbances as a result of the greasy food and the freshly baked bread.
On August 18, we began our main advance toward the north. I rode my company commander's second mount. Singing gaily, we crossed the German-Luxembourg frontier. The people were friendly and brought fruit and drink for the marching troops. We entered Budersberg.
Early on August 19, we moved to the southwest, passed under the cannon of the French fortress at Longwy, and bivouacked at Dahlem. The first battle was near. My stomach gave me a great deal of trouble, and even a chocolate and zwieback diet brought no relief. I would not report sick for I did not want to be looked upon as a shirker.
On August 20, after a hot march we reached Meix-la-Tige in Belgium. The 1st Battalion garrisoned the outpost line and the 2d Battalion provided local security. The population was very reserved and reticent. A few enemy planes appeared and were fired on without result.
Reconnaissance Around Longwy And Preparations For The First Battle
The next day was to be a day of rest. In the early hours of the morning, several fellow officers and I reported to Colonel Haas who ordered each of us to take a five-man reconnaissance detachment past Barancy and Gorcy in the direction of Cosnes near Longwy to ascertain the enemy dispositions and strength. The distance out was
eight miles, and to save time we obtained permission to go by wagon as far as the outpost. Our Belgian dray horse ran away while we were still in Meix-la-Tige, and the upshot was a landing in a manure pile. With only a broken-down wagon to show as a result of our efforts, we continued our way on foot.
reached the southern edge of the Bois de Mousson, and then descended towards Gorcy. The detachment under Lieutenant Kirn followed us, covering our movement through Gorcy from a hilltop.
On the Gorcy-Cosnes highway, we found signs that enemy infantry and cavalry were moving in the direction of Cosnes. Greater caution was indicated; we moved off the road and continued our march through the heavy growth bordering the road. Maintaining careful observation of the road, we finally reached a clump of woods five hundred yards west of Cosnes. I studied the terrain with field glasses but saw no French troops. On our way across the open fields to Cosnes, we came upon an old
woman peacefully at work. She related in German that the French troops had left Cosnes for Longwy an hour before and that no other troops remained in Cosnes. Would the old woman's story hold water?
We worked our way through grain fields and orchards and entered Cosnes with fixed bayonets, fingers on triggers, and all eyes studying doorways and windows for telltale evidence of an ambush. However, the inhabitants appeared friendly and confirmed the old woman's statement. They brought us food and drink, but we were still distrustful and made them sample the food before helping ourselves.
To speed reporting I seized six bicycles giving quartermaster receipts in return. Using our newly acquired conveyances, we pedaled a mile down the road in the direction of Longwy on whose outer works heavy artillery fire was being laid. Far and wide, nothing was to be seen of enemy troops. The mission of the reconnaissance detachment had now been accomplished. At a fast clip we passed through Gorcy on our way down grade to Barancy. We maintained a considerable interval between men and carried our guns ready for use under our arms. From Barancy on, I went on ahead of my men in order to report quickly.
On the street of Meix-la-Tige, I met the regimental commander and made my report. Tired and hungry, I headed for my quarters, looking forward to a few hours' rest. No such luck. In front of the quarters my battalion was drawn up ready to move. Hanle, efficient as usual, had already packed my belongings and saddled my horse. Before shoving off there was not even enough time for a bite to eat.
We marched to a hill three-quarters of a mile southeast of Saint Leger. The sky was overcast. From the southwest came the sound of rifle and occasional artillery fire. We knew that elements of the 1st Battalion, which were still on outpost duty near Villancourt, had made contact with the enemy during the afternoon.
At nightfall the regiment, less the 1st Battalion, went into bivouac some two miles south of Saint Leger with our security elements about three-quarters of a mile ahead. I was getting ready for a night's sleep when a call came for me to report to the regimental command post located some fifty yards from my platoon bivouac area. Colonel Haas asked whether I would make a trip through the woods to the 1st Battalion at Villancourt. My mission was to give the 1st Battalion the regimental order to retire to Hill 312 by the shortest route possible, and I was appointed battalion guide. (Sketch 1)
With Sergeant Golz and two men from the 7th Company, I went on my way. We traveled in the dark by compass through the meadowland southeast of Hill 312. Off to the right we heard our own
sentries' challenges, now and then a rifle shot. Soon we were climbing a steep, thickly-wooded slope. From time to time we halted and listened to the noises of the night. Finally, after a hard climb and feeling our way, we reached the crest of the line of hills west of Villancourt.
from close at hand a sentry called out: "Halt, who is there?" Was he German or French? We knew that the French often challenged in German. We dropped to the ground. "Give the password!" None of us knew it. I called my name and rank—and was recognized. Some 1st Battalion outposts were located on the edge of the woods.
It was not much farther to Villancourt. Five hundred yards south of the town we found companies of the 1st Battalion resting on the side of the Villancourt—Mussy-la-Ville road in close order.
I transmitted the regimental order to the battalion commander, Major Kaufmann. Compliance was not possible, for the 1st Battalion was still attached to the Langer Brigade. I was taken to General Langer's command post, on the hill one-half mile southwest of Villancourt, to give him my message. General Langer ordered me to return to my regiment with the information that he could not spare our 1st Battalion until the remainder of his brigade came up to Villancourt. Downcast at the failure of our mission and physically exhausted, my three companions and I headed back to Hill 312.
It was past midnight when I arrived at the regimental command post. I woke the regimental adjutant, Captain Wolters, and reported. Colonel Haas also heard it. He was not greatly pleased and ordered me to go by a round-about way to the 43d Brigade at Saint Leger, either on foot or mounted, and report personally to the brigade commander, General von Moser, that General Langer would not release the 1st Battalion, 124th Infantry. Did I tell my colonel that this job was beyond my strength, that I had been on the go for eighteen hours and was now exhausted? No; although a tough job lay ahead, it had to be done.
I groped my way to the company commander's second mount, tightened the girth and rode off to the Sketch 1
north. I found General von Moser in a tent on the hill a short distance southeast of Saint Leger. He was extremely displeased at my report and ordered me to return to Villancourt by way of the regimental command post and inform General Langer that the 1st Battalion of the 124th Regiment had to be under regimental control by daybreak.
Partly on horseback and partly on foot — up hill and down dale through the dark, dense woods — I made my way some six miles back to Villancourt where I carried out my instructions. Dawn was breaking as I got back to the Regiment on Hill 312. The companies stood at the ready, breakfast had already been eaten and the kitchens had left for the rear. My excellent orderly, Hanle, helped me make-do with a swig from his canteen. Light was long in coming as we were surrounded by thick, damp fog. Over at the Regimental command post, orders were being issued.
Observations: Facing the enemy, the reconnaissance detachment commander becomes conscious of his heavy responsibilities. Every mistake means casualties, perhaps the lives of his men. Therefore any advance must be made with extreme caution and deliberation. Taking advantage of all cover, the detachment should keep off the roads and repeatedly examine the terrain with field glasses. The detachment should be organized in considerable depth. Before crossing open stretches of terrain fire support must be arranged for. In entering a village, advance with part of the unit on the left, the rest on the right of the houses and with fingers on the triggers. Report observations rapidly, for delay lessens the value of any information.
Train in time of peace to maintain direction at night with the aid of a luminous dial compass. Train in difficult, trackless, wooded terrain. War makes extremely heavy demands on the soldier's strength and nerves. For this reason make heavy demands on your men in peacetime exercises.
Action At Bleid
About 0500, the 2d Battalion started off for Hill 325 about a mile and a half northeast of Bleid. A thick ground fog lay on the dew-covered fields, limiting visibility to a scant fifty yards. The battalion commander, Major Bader, sent me on ahead to explore the road to Hill 325. Having been on the go for nearly twenty-four hours, I could scarcely stay in the saddle. The terrain on both sides of the country road over which I rode was covered with numerous hedges and fenced-in meadows. With map and compass I found Hill 325; the battalion came up and deployed on the northeast slope. Soon afterward our advanced security elements on the south and west slope of Hill 325 ran into the enemy in the fog. A brief exchange of shots was heard from several directions. Occasional rifle bullets whined above our heads; what a peculiar sound! An officer who had ridden a few hundred yards in the direction of the enemy was fired on from close range. Riflemen rushed forward and succeeded in bringing down a red-trousered Frenchman and took him prisoner.
Now we heard German commands off to the left and toward the rear: "Half left, march! Extended interval!" A skirmish line suddenly emerged from the fog. It was the right wing of the 1st Battalion. My company commander ordered me to deploy my platoon, make contact with the right of the 1st Battalion, and advance on the southeast of Bleid.
I turned my horse over to Hanle, exchanged my automatic for his bayonet, and deployed my platoon. In skirmish formation we advanced toward Bleid through potato and cabbage fields over the
southeast slope of Hill 325. A heavy fog hung over the fields and visibility was still limited to fifty or eighty yards.
potato vines. Later volleys passed high over our heads. I searched the terrain with my glasses but found no enemy. Since he obviously could not be far away, I rushed toward him with the platoon. But the French got away before we had a chance to see him, leaving clearly denned tracks in the cabbage fields. We continued the pursuit in the direction of Bleid. The rapidity of our advance in this running engagement had caused us to lose contact with the right wing of the 1st battalion.
Several additional volleys were fired at the platoon from out of the fog; but each time we charged, the enemy withdrew hastily. We then proceeded about a half mile without further trouble. Suddenly a high hedged fence appeared through the fog, and to the right rear we saw the outlines of a farm. At the same time, we began to distinguish a group of tall trees to the left. The footprints of the enemy we had been following turned off to the right and went up the slope. Was Bleid in front of us? I left the platoon in the shelter of the hedge and sent out a scouting detachment to make contact with our neighbors on the left and with our own outfit. So far the platoon had suffered no casualties.
I went on ahead with Sergeant Ostertag and two range estimators to investigate the farm ahead of us. Nothing could be seen or heard of the enemy. We reached the east side of the building and found a narrow dirt path leading down to a highway on the left. On the far side through the fog we could distinguish another group of farm buildings. Without doubt we were on the Mussy-la-Ville side of Bleid. Cautiously we approached the highway; I peered around the corner of the building. There! scarcely twenty paces to the right I saw fifteen or twenty Frenchmen standing in the middle of the highway drinking coffee, chatting, their rifles lying idly in their arms. They did not see me. Later, it was learned that these troops were part of the 5th Company, 101st French Infantry Regiment
(Battalion LaPlace) sent to cover the southeast exit of Bleid.
I withdrew quickly behind the building. Was I to bring up the platoon? No! Four of us would be able to handle this situation. I quickly informed my men of my intention to open fire. We quietly released the safety catches; jumped out from behind the building; and standing erect, opened fire on the enemy nearby. Some were killed or wounded on the spot; but the majority took cover behind steps, garden walls, and wood piles and returned our fire. Thus, at very close range, a very hot fire fight developed. I stood taking aim alongside a pile of wood. My adversary was twenty yards ahead of me, well covered, behind the steps of a house. Only part of his head was showing. We both aimed and fired almost at the same time and missed. His shot just missed my ear. I had to load fast, aim calmly and quickly, and hold my aim. That was not easy at twenty yards with the sights set for 440 yards, especially since we had not practiced this type of fighting in peacetime. My rifle cracked; the enemy's head fell forward on the step. There were still about ten Frenchmen against us, a few of whom were completely covered. I signaled to my men to rush them. With a yell we dashed down the village street. At this moment Frenchmen suddenly appeared at all doors and windows and opened fire. Their superiority was too much; we withdrew as fast as we had advanced and arrived without loss at the hedge where our platoon was getting ready to come to our aid. Since this was no longer necessary, I ordered everyone back under cover. We were still being fired on through the fog from a building on the far side of the street, but the fire was high. Using my field glasses, I managed to locate the target which was some seventy yards away and I found that the enemy was firing from the roof as well as from the ground floor of a farmhouse. A number of rifle barrels were protruding from the roof tiles. Since it was impossible for the enemy to employ both rear and front sights in firing in this manner, this must have accounted for his fire going high over our heads.
Should I wait until other forces came up or storm the entrance of Bleid with my platoon? The latter course of action seemed proper.
Quickly the assault detachment picked up a few timbers which were lying close at hand. These were just the thing for battering down doors and gates. We also took a few bunches of straw along in order to smoke out any concealed men. Meanwhile the 2d Section had been lying along the hedge, ready to fire. The assault detachment had made its preparations under perfect cover. We were ready to start. (Sketch 2)
On signal, the 2d Section opened fire. I dashed forward to the right across the street with the 1st Section—over the same route I had passed over a few minutes before with the platoon. The enemy in the house opened with heavy rifle fire mainly directed at the section behind the hedge. The assault detachment was now sheltered by the building and safe from the hostile fire. The doors gave way with a crash under heavy blows of the battering ram.
Burning bunches of straw were thrown onto the threshing floor, which was covered with grain and fodder. The building had been surrounded. Anyone who had taken a notion to leap out would have landed on our bayonets. Soon bright flames leapt from the roof. Those of the enemy who were still alive laid down their arms. Our casualties consisted of a few slightly wounded.
We now rushed from building to building. The 2d Section was called up. Wherever we ran into the enemy, he either surrendered or took cover in the building recesses from which he was soon routed. Other elements of the 2d Battalion which had mingled with those of the 1st Battalion now forced their way through the entire village, which was afire in many places. The formations became intermingled. Rifle fire came from all directions and casualties mounted.
In a side street I rushed forward to a church surrounded by a wall from which heavy rifle fire was being directed at us. Making use of available cover and rushing from house to house, we approached
the enemy. As we advanced to the assault, he gave way, retreated westward, and was soon lost in the fog.
We now received very heavy fire on our left flank from the south part of Bleid, and our casualties began to increase. On every side one could hear frightened cries for aid-men. An improvised dressing-station was set up behind a laundry. A dreadful sight — most of the wounds were severe. Some of the men cried with pain; others looked death in the eye with the composure of heroes. In the northwest and south portions of Bleid the French were still in possession. Behind us the town was ablaze. In the meantime the sun had dissipated the fog. Nothing more could now be done in Bleid; so I assembled everyone within reach, arranged stretcher parties for the wounded, and moved off toward the northeast. I wanted to get out of this cauldron and reestablish contact with my own outfit. Fire; dense, stifling smoke; glowing timbers, crumbling houses; and frightened cattle running wildly among the burning buildings barred our way. Finally, half suffocated, we reached the open. First we took care of the many wounded; then I assembled the formation of about one hundred men and headed on to the shallow 'depression three hundred yards northeast of Bleid. There I left the platoon deployed to the west, and went with the section leaders on reconnaissance to the next rise in the terrain.
To the right and above us lay Hill 325 still covered with fog. In the tall fields of grain on its southern slope, we could not recognize friend or foe. Off to the right and about half a mile ahead of us on the far side of a draw, we saw the red breeches of French infantry in company strength on the front edge of a yellow wheat-field behind fresh earthworks. (They belonged to the 7th Company of the French 101st Infantry Regiment.) In the low area to the left and below us, the fight for burning Bleid still raged. Where were our company and the 2d Battalion? Were some still in Bleid with their bulk farther to the rear? What was I to do? Since I did not wish to remain idle with my platoon, I decided to attack the enemy opposite us in the sector of the 2d Battalion. Our deployment behind the ridge, our movement into position, and the opening of fire by the platoon was carried out with the
composure and precision of a peacetime maneuver. Soon the groups were in echelon, part of them in the potato field, part of them well concealed behind the bundles of oats from whence they delivered a slow and well-aimed fire as they had been taught to do in peacetime training.
As soon as the leading squads went into position, the enemy opened with heavy rifle fire. But his fire was still too high. Only a few bullets struck in front of and beside us, and we soon became
accustomed to this. The only result of fifteen minutes' fire was a hole in a mess kit. Half a mile to our rear we saw our own skirmish line advancing over Hill 325. This assured support for our right, and the platoon was now free to attack. We rushed forward by groups, each being mutually supported by the others, a maneuver we had practiced frequently during peacetime. We crossed a depression which was defiladed from the enemy's fire. Soon I had nearly the whole platoon together in the dead angle on the opposite slope. Thanks to poor enemy marksmanship, we had suffered no casualties up to this time. With fixed bayonets, we worked our way up the rise and to within storming distance of the hostile position. During this movement the enemy's fire did not trouble us, for it passed high over us toward those portions of the platoon that were still a considerable distance behind us. Suddenly, the enemy's fire ceased entirely. Wondering if he was preparing to rush us, we assaulted his position but, except for a few dead, found it deserted. The tracks of the enemy led off to the west through the field in which the grain was as tall as a man. Again I found myself well in advance of my own line with my platoon.
clumps of bushes interfered with the view to the northwest and west. We used one of these clumps of bushes as an observation post. Strange to say, nothing was to be seen of the retreating enemy.
Suddenly, Bentele pointed with his arm to the right (north). Scarcely 150 yards away the grain was moving; and through it we saw the sun's reflection on bright cooking gear piled on top of the tall French packs. The enemy was withdrawing from the fire of our guns which were sweeping the highest portion of the ridge to the west from Hill 325. I estimated that about a hundred Frenchmen were coming straight at us in column of files. Not one of them lifted his head above the grain. (These soldiers belonged to the 6th Company of the French 101st Infantry Regiment. They had been
attacked on the west slope of Hill 325 by elements of the 123d Grenadier Regiment and were now retreating toward the southwest.).
Was I to call up the remainder of the platoon? No! They could give us better support from their present position. The penetration effect of our rifle ammunition came to mind! Two or three men at this distance! I fired quickly at the head of the column from a standing position. The column
dispersed into the field; then, after a few moments, it continued the march in the same direction and in the same formation. Not a single Frenchman raised his head to locate this new enemy who had appeared so suddenly and so close to him. Now the three of us fired at the same time. Again the column disappeared for a short time, then split into several parts and hastily dispersed in a westerly direction toward the Gevimont-Bleid highway. We opened with rapid fire on the fleeing enemy. Strange to say, we had not been fired on even though we were standing upright and were plainly visible to the enemy. To the left, on the far side of the clump of bushes where we were standing, Frenchmen came running down the highway. They were easily shot down as we fired at them through a break in the bushes at a range of about ten yards. We divided our fire and dozens of Frenchmen were put out of action by the fire of our three rifles.
The 123d Grenadier regiment was advancing up the slope on the right. I waved my platoon forward and we proceeded up both sides of the Gevimont-Bleid road. Along the way we were surprised to find a number of Frenchmen concealed in the roadside bushes. It took considerable persuasion to make them leave their hiding places and lay down their weapons, since they had been led to believe that the Germans would cut the throat of any prisoner taken. We rounded up more than fifty of them from the bushes and grain fields—members of the 6th and 7th companies of the French 101st Infantry regiment—among them, a Captain and a Lieutenant who had suffered a slight arm wound. My men offered cigarettes to the captives which served to allay their mistrust to a great degree. The 123d Grenadier regiment had now reached the Gevimont-Bleid road at the top of the slope on the right. We were being fired upon from the direction of the forest covered slopes of Le Mat, a prominence lying about a mile northwest of Bleid. As quickly as possible I got the platoon into the cut on the right so they would be under cover, with the intention of resuming the fight with an attack on Le Mat from this point. Suddenly, however, everything went black before my eyes and I passed out. The exertions of the previous day and night; the battle for Bleid and for the hill to the north; and, last but not least, the terrible condition of my stomach had sapped the last ounce of my strength. I must have been unconscious for some time. When I came to, Sergeant Bentele was working over me. French shell and shrapnel were striking intermittently in the vicinity. Our own infantry was retiring toward Hill 325 from the direction of the Le Mat woods. What was it, a retreat? I
my best friends had been killed. As soon as the formations had been reordered, the battalions set off toward Gomery through the south part of Bleid.
Bleid presented a terrible sight. Among the smoking ruins lay dead soldiers, civilians, and animals. The troops were told that the opponents of the German Fifth Army had been defeated all along the line and were in retreat; yet in achieving our first victory, our success was considerably tempered by grief over the loss of our comrades. We marched south, but our progress was frequently halted, for in the distance we saw enemy columns on the march. Batteries of the 49th Artillery Regiment trotted ahead and went into position on the right of the highway. By the time we heard their first shots, the enemy columns had disappeared into the distance.
Night fell. Nearly dead from fatigue, we finally reached the village of Ruette, which was already more than filled with our own troops. We bivouacked in the open. No straw could be found, and our men were much too tired to search for it. The damp, cold ground kept us from getting a refreshing sleep. Toward morning it grew chilly—all of us were pitifully cold. During the early morning hours, my complaining stomach made me restless. Finally day dawned. Again thick fog lay over the fields.
Observations: It is difficult to maintain contact in fog. During the battle in the jog at Bleid, contact was lost soon after meeting the enemy, and it was not possible to reestablish it. Advances through fog by means of a compass must be practiced, since smoke will frequently be employed. In a meeting engagement in the fog, the side capable of developing a maximum fire power on contact will get the upper hand; therefore keep the machine guns ready for action at all times during the advance.
Fights in inhabited places often take place at extremely short ranges (a few yards). Hand grenades and machine pistols are essential. Provide fire protection before attacking by means of machine guns, mortars and assault guns. An attack in a village is usually accompanied by heavy casualties and should be avoided whenever possible. Pin the enemy down to the village by means of fire, or blind him with smoke and hit him outside the village or town.
Tall grain offers good concealment, but shining articles such as bayonets and cooking utensils may betray the location of troops. French security measures at Bleid were totally inadequate. Likewise, they failed to observe proper security precautions during this retreat and during the combat in the fields. After the first exchange, the German rifleman became imbued with a feeling of superiority vis-à-vis his French counterpart.
On The Meuse
Action At Mont And The Doulcon Woods
through to Verdun. We passed by this bloody battlefield.
East of Murveaux from positions on the west bank of the Meuse the French greeted us with shrapnel but inflicted little damage. Their fuses were set too high. Towards noon we were on our way in the burning sun to Dun on the Meuse. The fire of the French artillery was growing stronger. The battalion deployed in the woods one mile east of Dun. Companies formed into columns among the tall trees. Shortly thereafter the French laid heavy artillery fire on this part of the woods. We could plainly hear the guns fire in the distance; then came the sound of the approaching shells which, a few seconds later, flew through the leafy cover over our heads and burst with a terrific roar, some against the trees, others deep in the ground. Fragments screamed through the air and chunks of sod and branches dropped on us. Now they fell very close, now farther away. At each detonation we huddled together and dropped onto the ground. The continual danger was wearing on us. The battalion remained where it was until evening. Our casualties were astonishingly few.
Ahead of us on the edge of the woods half a mile south of Dun, the 4th Battery of the 49th Field Artillery Regiment, with which I had served a month before, was engaged in violent action against the enemy from a half-concealed position. It could not stand up to the French artillery which was superior in material, and the battery was suffering losses in men and equipment.
At twilight the 2d Battalion moved back to Murveaux. We spent the night in the open. My stomach was grumbling, for I had eaten nothing all day except for a handful of grain. We were short of bread. On the morning of August 30, French artillery broke up our divine services. The artillery duel on the Meuse was growing in intensity. To our great joy, horse-drawn 210 mm heavy mortar batteries with rubber-tired wheels trotted up and went into position — in short order their enormous shells were thundering toward the enemy.
At the southwest entrance of Mont our advance infantry ran into heavy fire from the woods on the commanding heights west of Mont. Shortly afterward our own artillery began to fire toward Mont from the hill southwest of Sassey and caused casualties in our units. They were firing on the report of a mounted reconnaissance detachment which a half hour previously had been fired on from Mont. Some time elapsed before the mistake could be corrected and the battery ceased firing.
One platoon of the 7th Company advanced to attack the enemy on the' hills west of Mont, but heavy enemy fire stopped the attack in its tracks. Committing an additional platoon brought no better results. Established in their dominating position, the far superior forces of the enemy caused severe losses among the infantry climbing the steep slopes, especially since the assault elements were unable to return the fire.
After our attacks were repulsed, the 7th Company was withdrawn and ordered to the assistance of the hard-pressed 127th Infantry Regiment in the Doulcon woods a mile and a quarter south of Mont. The company moved through the village of Mont to the southeast, and moved behind a hedge in open column of files. Thus hidden from enemy observation, they climbed Hill 297. Scarcely had the company reached the Mont woods and closed up when French shrapnel forced it to hit the dirt. We found shelter behind trees and in depressions in the ground. There were no signs of the 127th Infantry.
At the order of the company commander, I moved with two men toward the southern edge of Doulcon woods in order to establish contact with the regiment. We were fired on several times before reaching the south edge of the woods, and we found no sign of our own people. Down below in the Meuse valley, Dun was under violent French artillery fire. Using the reports of the guns as a
guide, we estimated the French artillery to be located behind a line of hills on the west bank of the Meuse. Neither our own nor the enemy infantry was to be seen at this time.
After my return the company advanced toward the west over a forest road. Upon reaching a clearing about a hundred yards wide, we established security elements in all directions and rested while retaining our march formation. Next, the company commander sent out scouting detachments in various directions in order to find the whereabouts of the 12th Infantry Regiment. These were hardly out of sight (the company had been resting about five minutes) when the whole clearing was
subjected to intense shrapnel fire. The shells rained down like a sudden thunderstorm. We tried to find shelter behind trees and used our packs to form improvised breastworks. The intensity of the bombardment made it impossible to move in any direction. Although the bombardment lasted several minutes, there were no casualties. Our packs intercepted a few of the missiles, and the bayonet tassel of one of the men was torn in shreds. It was a mystery to us how the French artillery so quickly learned of our location in the middle of the forest and how it was possible for them to lay their fire on us in such a short time. Was it just an accident?
At this moment one of my men from the scouting detachments returned with a badly wounded man from the 127th Infantry. The latter said that his regiment had retired hours ago and that, excepting dead and wounded, nothing remained in the woods up ahead. Two hours before several French battalions had marched past him going in a northerly direction and he believed that these troops must still be in the woods.
Under these circumstances our lone company's prospects were none too bright. Should we also return? The appearance of an infantry battalion on the road behind us solved our problem, and, after a conference with the battalion commander, we moved out in a westerly direction as battalion advance guard with my platoon as the point.
Five minutes later we heard heavy bursts of small-arms fire accompanied by considerable shouting. The sounds came from our right, and I estimated the distance to be about two-thirds of a mile. We turned toward the sound of the guns and moved over a narrow trail, both sides of which were covered with a heavy underbrush. On a straight section of trail we could make out some black objects a hundred yards ahead. Bullets whining about our ears answered the question as to their identity. We took cover in the brush, and the company deployed on both sides of the trail. The enemy maintained a heavy volume of fire but most of it was wild though we did suffer some injuries from ricochets. We advanced on our bellies through the thick underbrush and withheld fire until we were about 150 yards from the enemy position. Because of the dense underbrush I could see but few of my men, let alone control them. An increase in light indicated that we were nearing a clearing. Judging from the sounds ahead, we were about one hundred yards from the enemy. I charged ahead with my platoon and reached the clearing, which turned out to be so overgrown with blackberry bushes that we were unable to cross it. Violent enemy rifle fire drove us to earth, and we joined the fire fight with the enemy on the other side of the clearing. In spite of the close range, our targets remained hidden by the dense foliage and undergrowth. The two remaining platoons came up and we extended our skirmish line with two or three paces interval between men. The company commander ordered: "Continue firing and dig in." I noticed that the company commander, Lieutenant Bammert, was in the front line lying alongside a big oak. Any movement was out of the question, but
fortunately for us the enemy was still shooting high. Even so, men were getting hit.
were in poorly covered positions, this fire from both front and rear tended to unnerve us. It appeared that elements of our battalion had started their fire fight as soon as they came within range of the enemy, and the thick underbrush made it difficult to correct this error. On the right the sound of battle increased, and this brought an increased volume of enemy fire. A bullet smacked into the shovel with which I was digging. A few moments later First Lieutenant Bammert was hit in the leg, and I took command of the company. An attack was being made by German forces on our right; for we could hear drums, bugles, shouting, and the methodical fire of the French machine guns. It was a welcome respite. I ordered the 7th Company to attack, passing around the left of the clearing. The troops rushed forward, glad to get out of a bad spot and determined to fight it out. The enemy
decided to defer our meeting and threw a few shots at us; but by the time we had reached the far side of the clearing, he had vanished into the underbrush. We started off in pursuit, my immediate
objective being the southern edge of Doulcon woods because from there we might be able to inflict additional damage on the retreating enemy as he crossed the open terrain. Thinking that the whole company was right behind me, I hurried on as fast as possible with the leading squads but failed to catch up with the enemy before we reached the southern edge of Doulcon woods. Ahead of us, to the south on the next rise and on the far side of a wide meadow, was Briere farm. Behind the same rise and to the right of us we saw a French battery firing up the Meuse valley in the direction of Dun. Strange to say, no enemy infantry could be located. Judging from appearances, they had retired into the woods on the west. We now had lost contact within the company, and my total available force was twelve men. From the left a scouting detachment of the 127th Infantry came up and informed me that the 127th Infantry was about to attack from the woods in the direction of the Briere farm. Soon we saw skirmish lines advancing on the left. My problem was whether to wait for the
remainder of the company or to attack the battery ahead with my twelve men. I decided on the latter in the hope that the remainder of the outfit would follow. By dashes we reached a depression; and some seven hundred yards west of Briere farm we started climbing in the direction of the French battery. Judging from the sound of the guns, we were separated by a scant hundred yards. On our left the advance elements of the 127th Infantry were closing in on the farm. It was getting dark.
Suddenly our own troops opened fire on us from the farm; the 127th must have taken us for Frenchmen.
The fire became heavier and forced us to the ground. We tried to set them right by waving our helmets and handkerchiefs, but it was no use. There was no cover close to us, and the rifle bullets were striking close about us in the grass. We pressed our bodies to the ground and resigned ourselves to being fired on by our own people—for the second time in the course of a few hours. Seconds seemed like eternity, and I could hear my men groan as the bullets whistled over us. We prayed for darkness since its cover offered us our only chance of salvation. Finally they ceased firing. In order not to draw any more fire, we stayed where we were, and then after waiting several minutes we crawled back into the hollow to our rear. We made it! My twelve men were unscathed.
It was now too late to attack the French battery and I had lost my stomach for it. The moon shed a dim light through sparse clouds as we headed back into the Doulcon woods, the scene of the
afternoon's battle. We found no trace of the company. Later, I learned that a soldier had told the first sergeant I had been killed in the fight in the woods. The sergeant had assembled the outfit and marched it back to our battalion in the vicinity of Mont.
this rough terrain without stretchers, for our makeshift carry methods would only result in an added number of painful deaths. Exhausted and hungry we reached Mont shortly before midnight. The village had suffered heavily, with several houses totally demolished by the bombardment. Dead horses were lying in the narrow streets. In one of the houses I ran across a medical company. I described the location of the wounded in Doulcon woods for their commander and made
arrangements for their care. One of my men volunteered as guide. Then I looked about for shelter for the night. There was no trace of my own battalion.
In one of the houses we saw a light shining through the closed shutters. We went inside, and found a dozen women and girls who seemed frightened at our appearance. In French, I asked for food and a place to sleep for myself and my men. Both were provided, and soon we were sound asleep on clean mattresses. At daybreak we started looking for the 2d Battalion and found it just east of Mont. There was general amazement at our return, as we had been given up for lost. First Lieutenant Eichholz now took command of the 7th Company. In the evening we found quarters in Mont, and our company placed sentries at the southwest entrance. I slept in a bed in regal fashion, but not until I had forced the local French billeting agent to disgorge a couple of bottles of wine for Hanle and myself. Bedbug bites were the souvenirs of my princely couch.
Observations: The attack on the engineer company resting at the head of the main body of troops teaches us that all units of a group must provide for their own security. This is especially true in close terrain and when faced with a highly mobile enemy.
In the woods east of Dun the 7th Company was under heavy French artillery fire for a considerable period. Had one of the shells hit the column, at least two squads would have been annihilated simultaneously. With the increased power of modern weapons, increased dispersion and digging of foxholes is vital to the safety of any unit. Begin digging-in before the first enemy bombardment. Too much spade work is better than too little. Sweat saves blood.
As is shown by the example at Mont a thorough search of any locality previously occupied by the enemy is necessary. The twenty-six captured Frenchmen were perhaps shirkers, or they may have been left behind to ambush us as we moved through the town.
The report of a cavalry reconnaissance detachment that it had been fired on from Mont a half hour before caused our own artillery to fire into Mont while it was actually in the possession of the 124th Infantry. Needless losses resulted. Artillery-infantry liaison must be maintained. The artillery must maintain uninterrupted observation over the field of battle.
Action At Gesnes
In the earliest hours of September 2, 1914, the battalion headed for Villers-devant-Dun, where we got a short rest. Then the battalion hurriedly rejoined the regiment and, under a hot sun, marched through Andeville and Remonville to Landres. The enemy had retreated and the Meuse lay behind us. Morale was high in spite of the battles and exertions of the last few days. The band played as if we were on practice maneuvers. To the south in the direction of Verdun we could see artillery flashes and hear the shell bursts. We marched west in the heat and dust.
At Landres, in the afternoon, we suddenly turned southeast. Over miserable paths and through heavily wooded terrain, the 124th Infantry hurried to the assistance of the hard-pressed 11th Reserve Division. In the woods one mile northwest of Gesnes, French artillery got the range and greeted us with a shower of shrapnel. The battalion halted and I was sent ahead in the direction of Gesnes to find a road that offered some cover from this artillery fire. Accompanied by a sergeant, I moved through a dense brush to the south edge of the woods where we were forced to take cover because of heavy fire raking the edge of the woods from the right. We continued to the left and discovered a fairly well protected road. On returning we found the battalion had moved. Hanle was waiting alone with the horse and reported that the column had marched off to the right. Ahead enemy shells were striking along the edge of the woods. Accompanied by Hanle and the sergeant, I rode forward toward Gesnes, in order to overtake the unit, on the road I had just reconnoitered. On leaving the edge of the woods I could not locate the battalion. Perhaps it had already passed over the hill on its way to Gesnes. An officer less company of the 11th Reserve Division asked me to assume command. Soon three additional officer less companies were following me. Deploying, I led my fairly large force from the edge of the woods in the direction of Gesnes. On a slope three quarters of a mile northwest of Gesnes we halted and reorganized and the result was quite imposing. The ridge of the hill ahead was under intense fire from French rifles, machine guns, and artillery. Our own troops appeared to be engaged there. While my new formation was being reorganized, I rode forward and tied my horse to a bush on the protected slope close behind our own skirmish line. Up ahead I found elements of the 1st Battalion, 124th Infantry, mixed with troops of the 123d Grenadier Regiment, all engaged in violent fire fight with the enemy on the hills south and southwest of Gesnes. Our own attack had stalled in the face of heavy small arms and artillery fire and the men were digging in.
The enemy was well concealed and hard to locate even with field glasses and his artillery made life miserable for us. No one had seen anything of the 2d Battalion. Was it still in the woods to our rear? I galloped back. On the way I met the colonel of the 123d Grenadier Regiment and reported to him concerning the situation on the hill, giving him the location of the battalion that had placed itself under my orders. To my intense regret, an older officer was given command of this outfit and I was left free to continue my search for the 2d Battalion, 124th Infantry. I could not find it and rode back to the front line on the hill thirteen hundred yards northwest of Gesnes, collecting the parts of the 1st Battalion, 124th Infantry, that remained there. Soon I had about a thousand men with me.
The French batteries opened with rapid fire, and during the next few minutes hell broke loose around us; then one after the other, the enemy batteries ceased firing and finally all were silent. Night fell and except for sporadic flare-ups the rifle fire died away. I. continued looking for the 2d Battalion on the hills west of Gesnes until late, but luck was against me and I returned to my men. All were worn out and hungry for they had not eaten since early morning. Unfortunately I could not supply them with rations and I had my doubts as to whether the kitchens had managed to get through Gesnes Woods. My intention was to start back at daybreak in the direction of Exermont where I hoped to locate my regiment. The night passed without incident and toward morning we had a decided drop in the temperature. My complaining stomach served in place of an alarm clock.
reporting, I was given a new job. The battalion adjutant was a casualty, and I was ordered to take his place. The food situation was no better here than up forward and I ate some wheat grains to quiet my protesting stomach.
Infantry small-arms fire could be heard again, but the artillery had ceased firing. About 0900 the battalion commander took me with him on reconnaissance. The 1st and 2d Battalions held the ridge between Exermont and Gesnes. During our ride we had ample opportunity to see the results of the last day's fighting. Dead were everywhere, and among them we recognized the bodies of Captain Reinhardt and Lieutenant Holmann who fell on the preceding day. Our own front line was now dug in and there was little to see of the enemy who still held Tronsol farm. We returned to the battalion. My next job was to find the battalion kitchens and bring them up. This was an imperative task, for the troops had not eaten for more than thirty hours. To complicate matters, no one knew where the field kitchens were. I began by searching Gesnes and Romagne Woods and then proceeded to Romagne. The latter was full of vehicles belonging to the 11th Reserve Division. My next stop was at Gesnes because I remembered that the kitchens had been ordered there via Exermont, and I had a feeling that I would find them around our front lines. Gesnes was empty, and I headed toward Exermont which lay in the valley between the two fronts. Firing from the heights on both sides had ceased, and one mile southwest of Gesnes I ran into the entire 2d Battalion combat train. My hunch was correct for they were ahead of the front line. Shortly afterward some scouts arrived with the information that the regiment was moving forward in a quarter of an hour. Under these
circumstances, I left the kitchens where they were.
The hills around Tronsol farm were taken without further opposition. The enemy had withdrawn by the south leaving a few dead and wounded behind. The regiment bivouacked under canvas in the vicinity of the farm. My horse got a stall in the stable. He was in need of care after several strenuous days and cold nights.
Pursuit Through The Argonne; Action At Pretz
On September 4, we marched to Boureuilles by way of Eglisfontaine—Very—Cheppy and Varennes. The roads bore testimony to a hurried enemy retreat—abandoned rifles, packs, and vehicles. Because of the heat and the dusty condition of the road, we made slow progress, reaching Boureuilles late at night. During the night my ailing stomach again robbed me of sleep. The next day we marched through the Argonne to Briceaux, passing Clermont and Les Ilettes. We did not make contact with the enemy, and we knew that their rear guard had pulled out an hour ahead of us. Verdun was seventeen miles northeast of Briceaux. We were well quartered in Briceaux, but nobody was very hard to please. A mattress and a bite to eat were adequate. Captain Ullerich took command of the 2d Battalion. At daybreak, September 6, we sent out a mounted reconnaissance detachment which was fired on from the woods a bit south of Briceaux. At about 0900 the regiment left Briceaux, moving deployed to the southwest. At Longues Bois our leading elements ran into the enemy. The 1st Battalion attacked and quickly seized the Triancourt—Pretz highway. A few French troops were taken prisoner.
Toward noon the 2d Battalion was ordered to advance along the southwest edge of the woods to a point a mile and a quarter west of Pretz and then to attack on the right of the 1st Battalion and take Hill 260.
We moved out with Lieutenant Kirn in command of the point. We reached Hill 241 without meeting the enemy. From here we had to ride through tall bushes which almost covered the narrow path. About one hundred yards from the edge of the woods, we suddenly saw a strong French
reconnaissance detachment ahead of us. Both sides opened fire at close range, and the French retired without inflicting any casualties on us. On looking around we found that we had lost contact with the battalion. In order to reestablish it, the point halted and I rode back and found the battalion lying off to the left of the woods. I reported the latest action and the retreat of the enemy. The march on Hill 241 continued but after progressing a few hundred yards, French artillery fire drove the battalion to the ground. For several minutes we were subjected to a veritable hail of artillery fire with all movement out of the question. The men took cover as best they could behind trees, in hollows, and even behind piled packs. We suffered only one casualty.
When the fire became less intense, I galloped through the woods on the left to reestablish contact with the 1st Battalion. The woods proved too swampy. Failing to accomplish my mission, I returned and worked my way forward on foot along the eastern edge of the woods. I was frequently fired upon by the enemy, who had occupied the rise 350 yards east of the woods. At last I located the 3d Company which had held up its attack pending our assault.
Immediately on my return the battalion launched its attack in the direction of Hill 260 with the 6th and 8th Companies in assault. The French abandoned their positions and fell back. Even the French artillery which had been the bane of our existence all day was no longer much in evidence. We seized Hill 260 and poured fire on the retreating enemy. Nightfall put an end to the fighting. Scouts were sent out and the units dug in. To the right and ahead of us we saw piles of shells in an
abandoned battery position. I was sent back to report to the regimental command post and to bring up the kitchens. The men had had nothing to eat since leaving Briceaux.
Colonel Haas praised the work of the 2d Battalion.
I found the field kitchens on the Pretz-Triancourt highway. They reached the battalion at 2100, and the hungry men finally got some hot food.
We now had a telephone line to the regimental command post and it was after midnight when we received the next day's order. Our own scouts came and went. Although the enemy did not bother us, there was little time for rest.
Attack Of Defuy Woods
During the night our reconnaissance elements were able to determine that the enemy had taken up a defensive position some two miles distant in Defuy Woods. The regiment ordered the 2d Battalion to cross the highway at 0600 and take the woods. Units from the 123d Grenadier Regiment were to advance on our right. (Sketch 5).
At H hour the battalion attacked with two companies (6th and 7th) in the assault and two companies (5th and 8th) echeloned to the left rear. Our left flank advanced toward the northeast corner of the
Assault on the Defuy Woods. (a) Battle near Pretz on August 6th. (b) Position at which attack was halted August 7th.
(c) Storming of Defuy Woods, (d) Rommel's movement to cut off French
woods. I rode between the 6th and 7th Companies. There was no sign of the grenadiers on our right. At this point we received this order: "Stay the advance. Remain where you are."
I transmitted the order and galloped back to the regimental command post on Hill 260 to find out the why and wherefore of the order. Colonel Haas wanted the attack held up until the 123d could get going and he had no idea when that would be. In the meantime the French artillery had become active and was laying its fire on the two reserve companies which were bunched together in the open.
The French artillery observers had an excellent view of our lines from the northern edge of the woods.
I dashed forward with the battalion order for the assault echelon to entrench in the potato fields and vegetable plots. On my way back, a French battery drew a bead on me, and I had to zigzag to avoid getting hit by the shrapnel it was throwing my way.
The French artillery fire, with medium guns adding their weight, increased in intensity. The 5th Company was lying on the ground in closed column, and a single shell wiped out two entire squads. The front-line units were well concealed and dug in and so did not share the fate of the 5th
A battery of the 49th Artillery Regiment, which took up the fight from positions near Hill 260, received a bad mauling from the French counterbattery fire.
The battalion and regimental command posts were located close together in a cut on the highway a mile and a quarter northeast of Vaubencourt. It did not take the French batteries long to lay an extremely heavy concentration on the cut. And no wonder! The heavy traffic in messengers and horsemen, not to mention the numerous command posts had given the location away. Shell after shell came howling down upon us sending cascades of splinters, earth and stones flying over our heads. This fire kept up for hours, making it impossible for us to resume our attack.
Tired and exhausted, I tried to catch up on some lost sleep while lying in the roadside ditch. We had by now become so inured to the shelling that even bursts in the immediate vicinity failed to unduly disturb us. Although the greater part of the woods bordering our portion of the roadway was torn up during the course of the day, we sustained few casualties.
Towards dusk, the order came to resume the attack on the Defuy woods. It ended our brooding inactivity. The 3rd Battalion would lead the assault, with the 2nd Battalion on its left and the 123rd Regiment on its right. As the units took their positions, the French artillery fire diminished
noticeably and then fell silent.
I rode ahead and set the Battalion in motion. Amazingly, we encountered neither artillery nor small-arms fire from the French. Had the enemy cleared out again?
The front line—a skirmish line at four-pace intervals—crossed the low ground six hundred yards northwest of the woods and climbed the slope. On the right the grenadiers and the 3d Battalion were abreast of each other. The reserve (1st Battalion 124th Infantry and the Machine-Gun Company) followed a couple of hundred yards behind the attacking troops.
I rode behind the 7th Company which was on the extreme left. Dusk was falling.